2003 Lincoln Aviator
This 2003 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2005.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Don't forget to wear your Goldilocks outfit if you're shopping for a luxury sport-utility vehicle. It's perfectly appropriate as Goldilocks, the little girl in a popular children's story who tried out everything from beds to food to find which one was "just right" for her, would have fun at Lincoln showrooms these days.
Lincoln added a second sport-utility vehicle, the 2003 Aviator, to its line, and the Aviator looks for all the world like the big, full-size Lincoln Navigator SUV—only smaller. In fact, some neighbors just naturally assumed that the chrome grille-laden SUV with the Navigator styling that I was test driving was a Navigator. They didn't notice the badging that said "Aviator."
Lincoln officials said the resemblance between the two vehicles is intentional, since the Navigator's styling was successful in bringing new customers to Lincoln after the vehicle's 1998 debut. Sixty percent of Navigator buyers were new to Lincoln, in fact.
Now, with the market for smaller, midsize SUVs being a hot one, Lincoln officials said they expected up to 85 percent of buyers of the new, midsize Aviator will be new to Lincoln. But I think that folks who like the Navigator looks also might find this "downsized" and more maneuverable version attractive, too.
Sizing it up
The Aviator is a couple inches narrower than the Navigator, too, and is 6.4 inches shorter in height. As you might guess, there's less cargo room in the Aviator—a maximum 77 cubic feet with all the rear seats folded down vs. 104 cubic feet in the Navigator.
But like the Navigator, the Aviator includes three rows of seats inside. Front bucket seats are roomy, and the center console is wide. Also just like the Navigator, the Aviator offers separate second-row seats that have a sizable floor-mounted console between them. It adds a posh touch to an already leather-swabbed interior. But a more conventional second-row seat arrangement is available, too, that can accommodate three riders, thus pushing the Aviator's maximum seating to seven.
I found I enjoyed the separate second-row seats in the test Aviator for another reason. Using just one lever, I could get them moved up and out of the way easily when I wanted to climb all the way back to the third-row bench seat. There's a nice plastic cover on the floor there, under these seats, too, so you don't have to worry about getting a heel caught inside a seat track.
It's mated to a five-speed automatic which produced mostly smooth shifts in the test SUV. Torque is 300 lb-ft at 5750 rpm from the Aviator engine, but Lincoln officials note that 90 percent of this peak torque is available from 2000 rpm.
Power didn't come on in a sports-car-like, instantaneous fashion in the test Aviator, but the power delivery was strong and impressive, nonetheless. Some midsize luxury SUVs, such as the 2003 Acura MDX and Lexus RX 300, don't even offer V8s.
But the 2003 Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV has two V8 offerings. Its 5.0-liter V8 in the ML500 generates a maximum 288 horses and 325 foot-pounds of torque at 3000 rpm and its limited-production ML55 AMG with hand-built 5.5-liter V8 has 342 horsepower and 376 foot-pounds of torque starting at 2800 rpm.
BMW's X5 also is available with V8s. The X5 4.4i's 4.4-liter V8 has maximum 290 horses and 324 foot-pounds of torque at 3600 rpm, while the 4.6is V8 generates 340 horses and 350 foot-pounds of torque at 3700 rpm. BMW's X5 performance figures are for 2002 models, as 2003 stats are not out yet.
Note, though, that the Aviator tops the German competitors considerably in towing capacity. It's rated up to 7,300 pounds. This is even better than the 6,500-pound towing limit for the bigger, Lexus LX 470.
But don't expect great fuel economy in the Aviator. The federal government's fuel economy listing for the Aviator in city driving is just 13 miles a gallon, no matter if the vehicle is two- or all-wheel drive. In my combined city/highway driving, I averaged 15.4 miles a gallon in an Aviator 2WD. The vehicle's recommended fuel is premium, too.
Quiet, nice ride
The Aviator is designed to provide a bit of road feel, rather than an isolating ride. Yet, there's a sense that riders are being carried competently over rough stuff without a lot of fuss. I did notice my body jiggling mildly on rough pavement, and on occasion, the Aviator bobbed up and down gently.
Because of the Aviator's tall stance, I also hesitated in taking curves at speeds, lest body motions make me and my riders uncomfortable. But over time, I became more aggressive as the Aviator's four-wheel independent suspension showed it had the capability to manage body sway. The rack-and-pinion steering was commendable, too. I found I didn't need to make many corrections as I drove along winding country roads.
The Aviator comes standard with 17-inch, Michelin tires.
Odds and ends
The classy-looking, little door that covers the stereo at the top of the dashboard wasn't quite as nicely done on the test SUV as I'd like. I had to grip the bottom edge of the thing and give it a tug to get it back down. The Aviator's blinkers also had an old-style, clickity sound that seemed out of place for such a modern interior.
This satin nickel finish is an interesting story. Lincoln designers wanted each button and control to appear to have black letters on them but didn't paint them on.
Instead, letters are laser-etched into the satin nickel material and then they're backlit by light-emitting diode white light.
There's a new Lincoln clock, too. It's not digital; it's an analog timepiece with a circular face, reminiscent of the one that luxury carmaker Infiniti uses in its vehicles.
The Aviator doesn't offer all the same features that the Navigator has. The Navigator's power running boards and power fold-down rear seats aren't available here, for example.
Aviator prices can climb quite a bit over the starting figure. The top-of-the-line, all-wheel-drive Aviator in premium trim has an MSRP, including destination charge, of more than $45,000. This is some $6,000 less than a base 2003 Navigator which comes standard with four-wheel drive.